The Rolling Stones – Still Life (American Concert 1981)

Still Life (American Concert 1981) (1982)

B

1. Intro: Take The A Train 2. Under My Thumb 3. Let’s Spend The Night Together 4. Shattered 5. Twenty Flight Rock 6. Going To A Go-Go 7. Let Me Go 8. Time Is On My Side 9. Just My Imagination 10. Start Me Up 11. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction 12. Outro: Star Spangled Banner

 

That middling grade up there is a damn sight higher than most people are willing to shell out for this junky excuse for a live album, but darn it all if I didn’t really want to go higher. People tend to thoughtlessly slag off the ’81 tour based on the evidence presented on this album alone, and certainly there are quite a few less than complimentary things one could conceivably say about said tour – that it was sloppy as hell, that it was more of a traveling coke snorting party than a tour, that the singing, both lead and backup, sounded closer to a group of tone-deaf, pneumonic baboons than professional musicians. It was also the Stones’ first full-blown stadium tour, aside from one or two stadium dates on the Some Girls tour, and Mick really took a shining to the venues in a very unique way. But here’s the thing, and I hope it doesn’t kill my credibility: ’81-’82 might actually be my favorite touring era for the band. Out of all their classic tours—’69, ’72, ’78, etc.—I get as much or more enjoyment out of listening to shows from the football pants tour than any other. Yeah, it was sloppy and Mick was too busy leaping around in football pants like a buffoon to sing worth half a shit, but the setlists were long and varied, and the guitars were way up front and nasty and raw as your sister, it was fun as hell and it kicked ass.

Still Life, however, does a damn poor job of representing how fun and rocking the tour was. The guitars are pushed back in the mix and endowed with a studio-processed sheen that does not suit the spirit of the performances well at all. This, in turn, only puts more emphasis on Mick’s terrible, off-key grunting that he tries to pass off as singing – most of which were overdubbed in the studio but of course only end up sounding clearly tacked on and even worse than the original vocal tracks. It also becomes obvious that Ronnie, deprived of the benefit of the gritty tone that he actually had during these shows, reveals himself to be almost comically useless in musical terms – unsurprising, since he was freebasing the entire tour and was on the verge of being fired the whole time. In other words, the good parts of the ’81 sound are minimized and the bad parts are emphasized. Typical.

But despite the massacring of a boatload of potential that Still Life represents, there are still a few ear candies to enjoy. The covers are particular winners, aside from “Just My Imagination,” which is edited down to the point of absurdity. The new ones especially – namely a crunchy garage boogie version of “Twenty Flight Rock” and a prototypically Stonesified take on the vintage Motown cut “Going To A Go-Go,” which became a single. They also dig up “Time Is On My Side,” which sounds pretty good, if only for being the only song where they aren’t playing a million miles an hour too fast (on the other hand, the otherwise mediocre Emotional Rescue obscurity “Let Me Go” is played about three times faster than it is on the album and is about three times better). Everything else is hit or miss, to put it kindly. I recommend finding yourself a nice bootleg of a show from this tour in order to give yourself a very good reason to never have to play this album again.



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